8 Nintendo Products That Aren’t Video Games

Although Nintendo is one of the most iconic brands in video game history, the company was in business for nearly a century before the NES, Game Boy, or even Mario were ever dreamed up. Founded in 1889, the Kyoto, Japan-based company was known as Nintendo Koppai in its formative years and primarily made different types of playing cards before branching off into toys and board games. Here are 8 non-video game products from Nintendo’s near-127-year history.


One of Nintendo’s most popular playing card series was the Ehon Trump, a kind of picture book that featured TV-shaped boxes with famous Japanese cartoons and comic book characters inside (think Astro Boy and Ultraman). In 1959, the company acquired a license from Disney to produce toys and games for the Japanese market, and added such beloved characters as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck to the lineup.


After decades of producing playing cards, Nintendo expanded to the toy and game market in 1964 with Rabbit Coaster, a game in which players raced colored beans down a series of descending tracks and levels to the finish line. The game’s popularity led Nintendo to release a whole series of “coaster” games, including My Car Race, Punch Race, and a sequel to Rabbit Coaster.


Struggling against heavyweights like Bandai in the Japanese toy market, Nintendo turned to up-and-coming designer Gunpei Yokoi to brainstorm some fresh ideas for the company. In 1966, Yokoi unveiled Ultra Hand, a plastic grabber toy that could expand and contract with its handles. The toy became a smash hit in Japan and was Nintendo’s first product to sell more than one million units.

Fun Fact: In 1989—more than two decades later—Gunpei Yokoi also created the Game Boy for Nintendo.


In 1972 Nintendo released Mach Rider, a battery-powered race car that rested on a ramp connected to gauges and a gear shift, into the Japanese toy market. When its user would shift from one gear to the next, the car would charge and increase speed while docked. Once the user shifted into fourth gear, the Mach Rider would shoot off the ramp.


In 1967, following the success of Ultra Hand, Gunpei Yokoi created Ultra Machine, a battery-powered pitching machine that came with ping pong balls and a colorful plastic bat. The toy became another hit for Nintendo, and gave the company the opportunity to branch out into foreign markets. When the Ultra Machine was released in the United States and Australia, Nintendo changed its name to Slugger Mate, as the “Ultra” brand was only recognizable in Japan.


Released in the mid-1960s, Magic Roulette was aimed squarely at the adult market. The sophisticated roulette game came with plastic betting chips, a playing field, metal ball bearings, and a roulette wheel, plus playing cards. Magic Roulette could be played as traditional roulette or a variation of five-card poker using five ball bearings during a spin instead of just one.   


In 1971 Nintendo released the Light Telephone, a two-way walkie-talkie that used transmitted light for communication instead of radio waves. Rather than market the Light Telephone to children, Nintendo targeted it as a novelty item for tech-savvy adults. It was only available in Japan, but it got some attention in Popular Science as a “walkie-talkie flashlight.” 


In the late 1970s, Nintendo released a small, radio-controlled vacuum cleaner as a game. It was called Chiritori, which means “dustpan” in Japanese. Although Chiritori could actually pick up dust and other gunk off a floor, it was intended to be a toy, not an actual household cleaning device. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Chiritori wasn’t a bestseller for Nintendo; the company only made a limited amount of units, and the toy was discontinued shortly after its release.

Jeremy Freeman, TruTV
A New Game Show Helps Contestants Pay Off Their Student Loans
Jeremy Freeman, TruTV
Jeremy Freeman, TruTV

Most game shows offer flashy prizes—a trip to Maui, a million dollars, or a brand new car—but TruTV’s latest venture is giving away something much more practical: the opportunity to get out of student loan debt. Set to premiere July 10 on TruTV, Paid Off is designed to help contestants with college degrees win hard cash to put towards their loan payments, MarketWatch reports.

The show gives college graduates with student loan debt "the chance to test the depth of their degrees in a fun, fast-paced trivia game show,” according to TruTV’s description. In each episode, three contestants compete in rounds of trivia, with one contestant eliminated each round.

One Family Feud-style segment asks contestants to guess the most popular answer to college-related poll questions like “What’s the best job you can have while in college?” (Answer: Server.) Other segments test contestants' general trivia knowledge. In one, for example, a contestant is given 20 seconds to guess whether certain characters are from Goodfellas or the children’s show Thomas & Friends. Some segments also give them the chance to answer questions related to their college major.

Game show host Michael Torpey behind a podium

Based on the number of questions they answer correctly, the last contestant standing can win enough money to pay off the entirety of their student debt. (However, like most game shows, all prizes are taxable, so they won't take home the full amount they win.)

Paid Off was created by actor Michael Torpey, who is best known for his portrayal of the sadistic corrections officer Thomas Humphrey in the Netflix series Orange is the New Black. Torpey, who also hosts the show, says the cause is personal to him.

“My wife and I struggled with student debt and could only pay it off because—true story—I booked an underpants commercial,” Torpey says in the show’s pilot episode. “But what about the other 45 million Americans with student loans? Sadly, there just aren’t that many underpants commercials. That is why I made this game show.”

The show is likely to draw some criticism for its seemingly flippant handling of a serious issue that affects roughly one in four Americans. But according to Torpey, that’s all part of the plan. The host told MarketWatch that the show is designed “to be so stupid that the people in power look at it and say, ‘That guy is making us look like a bunch of dum dums, we’ve got to do something about this.’”

Paid Off will premiere on Tuesday, July 10 at 10 p.m. Eastern time (9 p.m. Central time).

[h/t MarketWatch]

Kena Betancur, AFP/Getty Images
Want to Live as Long as an Olympian? Become a Chess Grandmaster
Kena Betancur, AFP/Getty Images
Kena Betancur, AFP/Getty Images

It’s well known that physical fitness can help prolong your life, so it’s not surprising that elite athletes, like Olympians, tend to have longer lifespans than your average couch potato. But it seems that “mind sports” can help keep you alive longer, too. According to BPS Research Digest, a recent study suggests that international chess grandmasters have lifespans comparable to Olympic athletes.

The study, published in PLOS ONE, examined the survival rates of 1208 mostly male chess grandmasters and 15,157 Olympic medalists from 28 countries, and analyzed their life expectancy at 30 years and 60 years after they attained their grandmaster titles. They found that both grandmasters and Olympic medalists exhibited significant lifespan advantages over the general population. In fact, there was no statistical difference between the relative survival rates of chess champions and athletic champions.

There are several variables that the study couldn’t take into account that may be linked to chess players’ long lifespans, though. Grandmasters often employ nutritionists and physical trainers to keep them at their best, according to the researchers, and exercise regularly. Economic and social status can also influence lifespans, and becoming a world-champion chess player likely results in a boost in both areas.

Some research has shown that keeping your mind sharp can help you in old age. Certain kinds of brain training might lower the risk of developing dementia, and one study found that board game players in particular have slightly lower rates of dementia.

If keeping the mind sharp with chess really does extend lifespans, the same effect might apply as well to elite players of other “mind sports,” like Go, poker, or competitive video games. We’ll need more research to find out.

[h/t BPS Research Digest]


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